The almighty ‘Other’ category can be incredibly useful in creating meaningful input for survey data analysis. As a B2B marketing researcher, who has spent considerable time in the consumer market research arena as well, I can say that no matter how well my category lists are constructed there are always those respondents who believe they don’t fit within the mold. This is why the ‘Other (please specify)’ option has been added into the repertoire of all online survey applications.
When we are in the questionnaire development stage, we should strive to develop exhaustive lists. However, in practice this does not always occur, despite our best efforts at secondary and qualitative research. The example below is from an industry study, therefore having a meaningful list of business categories is important to the overall success of the project. It is advisable early on to check with members of IT, marketing and sales to see if an accepted category list is in place. Yet, this is just a starting point as category lists, like surveys as a whole, age and in some cases very poorly. Another source for category lists, in a B2b context, are trade associations and various US government agencies, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Despite our best efforts, though, there will be those who feel the need to not conform. This is where the almighty other comes into play as it allows the participant to provide their own response. In theory, coding these open-ends, may seem tedious, yet in practice there is often a high degree of correlation which makes the coding process a bit easier. When setting up export values it is best to give the ‘Other’ code a high number such as 99. This allows you as the researcher the space to create new categories, based upon consensus found within the responses. Undertaking this coding can be done via text analysis tools or the old-school way of sorting the responses in a spreadsheet and assigning new codes to groups that have a substantive number of shared responses.
Keep in mind there will almost always be someone that doesn’t fit the mold, even after a re-coding exercise. It is okay to leave these outliers coded as ‘Other’.